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The menace of uranium mining; Falea, Mali

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The Berlin conference held in 1884/1885 drew the borders and organized the distribution of the African continent as we currently know it. Today multinational corporations hold the rights to and collect the riches of Africa’s arable land and resources, including the uranium of Falea which is to be exploited by Rockgate Capital Corporation.

In Mali about 60 exploration or exploitation licences are issued to foreign mining companies each year. In this race for the extraction of mineral resources encouraged by the Malian government, uranium and bauxite are the most sought after. The highest potential for uranium is in the community of Falea, endowed with extraordinary biodiversity and cultural richness.

The Municipality of Falea is located in the Western part of Mali and borders Guinea and Senegal. The population is estimated at 17,000 inhabitants. Most of the population is young (between 15 and 40 years old) and female (approximately 62%), comprising the ethnic groups: Djalonkes, Mandinka, Fula and Diakhanké.

About twenty years ago the French multinational Cogema – today Areva – discovered deposits of uranium, copper and bauxite in Falea. In 2007 the government of Mali concluded an agreement with the Canadian company Delta Exploration, now Rockgate Capital Corp, concerning the future exploitation of its primary resources. The conditions of the contract have not been made public.

Neither the Council of the Wise nor the “modern” municipal council, in place since 1995, nor the population were officially informed or consulted. In 2008 an airstrip was built within 50 meters of the primary school.

Traditionally, land in Mali belongs to no one. The «Maitre de la terre» «Chief of the soil» hands over the land to those cultivating it. Those who are digging a well or planting a tree on a piece of land granted to them by the “Maitre de la terre” are recognized by common law as the cultivators of the land upon which he generates value.

The traditional system is based on the ancient wisdom of refusing to allow land to become a commercial good or private property. Land is considered common to all and is not a commercial merchandise.

Short-term speculation has replaced traditional wisdom. The Malian government, influenced by the institutions inherited from its French colonial past, is selling the country’s wealth and traditions. All land not protected by ownership titles is state-owned. The mining code of Mali, adopted in 1999, gives the mining Ministry the right to issue mining permits for extracting fossil and mineral substances. This new administrative body was put in place by

the central authorities. Traditional institutions attempt to co-exist with modern law. The mayor and his municipal council have been elected since 1999. Common law which did not recognize ownership titles has been replaced by costly and long procedures for accessing land: numerous public inquiries, permits to be obtained and mandatory waiting periods.

Since 2009, core soil samples are collected from 300 meter deep holes drilled every 200 meters and flown by an Antonov plane to a South African laboratory with the goal of establishing a map to facilitate the exploitation of the surface as well as the ground beneath it.

Avoiding the Worst
In Bamako the Association of Citizens and Friends of Falea – ARACF – fights for the rights of Falea’s population. The association attempts to bring independent expertise and international attention to Falea; with partners such as the city of Geneva, the European Civic Forum, the CRIIRAD in France, and the OEKO Institute in Germany.

To obtain an exploitation permit, the Mali mining code requires companies to produce an environmental impact study – ESIA – containing the description of the project and an evaluation of the effects on people, nature and wildlife, soil, water, air, countryside and national resources. In April 2010 Rockgate Capital Corporation handed this job to Golder Associates, environmental experts and consultants with nearly 7000 employees based in over 150 offices worldwide.

If it is to determine and prepare citizen expertise within the time framework given, ARACF has, however, not received information concerning the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment schedule (ESIA). Officially, Mali’s central government adheres to the 'Environmental impact assessment and environmental audit capacity building in both public and private sectors' program set up by the International Resources Group (IRG - USAID).

The only reliable sources for the moment are statements published by Rockgate on its Internet site. The ARACF strongly wishes greater access to government information.

Access to official documents proves to be very difficult. This means that obtaining geological and regional maps, as well as viewing the proposed plans and programs of infrastructure and road construction necessary for the transportation of minerals is facilitated for potential investors, but complicated and quite expensive for civilians.

Baseline study
Before beginning to mine uranium, a natural radioactivity map must be drawn up. The nuclear lobby would like us to believe that the occurrence of birth defects and cancers is a normal event due to the presence of large underground uranium deposits; that the millions of tons of highly radioactive soil unearthed by the mining operation is not a contributing factor.

"To put in place a detailed study of the impact area (10.2 km x 13.3 km), a major hurdle must be overcome: limited access of the local population to the land Rockgate is prospecting, in spite of Malian law which specifies that only the underground mineral rights have been ceded to the corporation, not overland rights. For example, the military has been brought in to expel farmers from their traditional lands bordering the Falea based Kondoya gold mine in deference to the mining company and thus outside the land specifically designated for mining".

The baseline study is sponsored by the city of Geneva with technical support supplied by the French Independent Nuclear Research and Information Center (CRIIRAD). Geneva 'the guardian city' of the Falea baseline study, keeps the data of the study in a sure and neutral place.

"To reduce the devastating effects on the environment, the procedure for obtaining permits must require proof of independent and sufficient funding to cover the costs of rebuilding the land once the mine is shut down, as well as a plan and financing for the safe storage of the wastes produced by the mine for at least 200 years."

Advice to ARACF from Gerhard Schmidt of the German Oeko Institute

Source and contact: ARACF (Association des Ressortissants et Amis de la Commune de Falea), ACI Baco-Djicoroni, Rue 573 , Porte 682, Bamako, Mali
Tel: 00223 20 28 11 43
Email: faleadounia[at]